Reggie Jackson wants to be a starter. Scott Brooks and the Thunder remain non-committal on the idea.
That’s the news that surfaced during exit interviews last week, and the storyline that will likely linger until Jackson’s next contract is sorted out.
But no matter the eventual outcome, the Thunder controls Jackson for at least another season. And barring an unlikely trade, no matter if he starts or not, Jackson will be a key piece for the Thunder’s next title run — the fourth most important player on a team that already has already established one of the league’s best Big Threes.
“He’s a guy that fits the profile of a Thunder player,” general manager Sam Presti said of Jackson. “He’s got size for his position, he’s got length and reach, quickness in tight spaces. And he’s got a competitive will that we value.”
Jackson’s worth was on clear display during an season in which he was forced into a variety of roles.
“He’s been given a myriad of opportunities,” Presti said. “Some by design and some out of necessity. I think he’s worked his way through all those admirably.”
All in a 100-game span, Jackson has been the starting point guard for a red-hot team, the lone ballhandler for a bench unit, an off-ball closer in crunch-time lineups and a starting shooting guard in the Western Conference Finals.
All valuable experiences. And all needed as he heads into an important 2014-15 season for the Thunder where his role remains fluid but his importance has become clear.
Refinement is needed, though.
The Thunder has long been a franchise that preaches and successfully practices internal development as the best way to improve. And Jackson has been a great example the past three seasons, turning from draft day project to invaluable piece.
But his spotty defensive effort shines as the biggest area he must upgrade. And, according to Jackson, it’s not a physical issue, but rather a focus problem.
“It’s more mental than anything,” Jackson said. “When I lock in, I can pick up anybody for 94 feet. It’s not a problem. Just the mental task of doing it. Pushing myself beyond the limit. Knowing I can do it on both ends of the floor, each and every night.”
Jackson’s poor closeouts, in particular, plagued the Thunder. Multiple times in the Spurs series, a lane opened for the attacking Manu Ginobili because Jackson either closed out lazily or overcommitted to a shot and left himself vulnerable.
“Especially when I feel a little fatigued,” Jackson said of his closeout problems. “Too many guys are blowing by me. I was kind of a detriment at times with that. I know the team relies on me to lock in on whoever’s in front of me and get a stop.”
Jackson’s unique offensive ability — he’s an improving outside shooter and, percentage-wise, one of the league’s best finishers — makes him impossible to keep off the court. So starter or not, he’ll average nearly 30 minutes next season, meaning his defensive improvements will directly result in team-wide defensive improvements.
Or a lack of growth could hold the Thunder back.
It’s up to Jackson during an offseason that carries great importance for the now-established 24-year-old.